It’s not necessarily an issue when parents stay together. However, custody and parenting time present their fair share of challenges. The best interests of the children are no doubt critical. In some cases, this could mean restricting parents from relocating – even within the state of New Jersey.
You may already know that the New Jersey statutes specifically address removing a child from the state. NJSA 9:2-2 pertains to relocating minor children of divorced or separated parents out of the state court’s jurisdiction. The jurisdiction refers to the state as a whole – and the statute applies to children who are native to New Jersey or have lived here for at least five years.
Meanwhile, there is nothing written into the law as far as relocation within the state. Montague Township is New Jersey’s northernmost municipality, while Cape May is the southernmost. Depending on the traffic, parents who share custody could be looking at a minimum of four hours each way in travel time. Inevitably, this will impact parenting time.
Often, this type of distance does not become an issue until after the parties have divorced and moved on with their lives. The court will then entertain a motion based on a change in circumstances. However, one recent court opinion deals with a lower court order restricting the parents from relocating within the state. You may find the case and the legal decision of interest.
Court Placed Fifteen Mile Restrictions on Parents
The New Jersey Appellate Division decided the matter of B.G. v E.G. on August 31, 2018. The opinion is unpublished, which means that the ruling only applies to the named parties. Their identities are masked with initials for privacy purposes.
The case cites issues with custody, support payments, and equitable distribution. Although you may want to read the legal opinion in its entirety, the focus of this article is on the relocation restrictions placed on the parents. The judge in the lower court ruled on the matter after a twenty-three-day trial.
B.G. and, E.G. began dating in 1988 and lived together between 1992 and 1994. In 1994, they had their first child. It is unclear what happened between 1994 and 2000 when the couple married. They subsequently had three other children. The oldest of the children was considered emancipated when the couple divorced in 2016. One of the younger sons has special needs and requires constant supervision.
With the exception of the special needs child, the judge interviewed the children. The oldest son appeared to have a tumultuous relationship with his mother and expressed a desire to live with his father. The youngest daughter spoke lovingly of her mother and wanted to remain in the house with her.
The court appointed an expert to evaluate the custody issues. While providing testimony in the case, Dr. William Campagna shared his thoughts that the family was not only “very dysfunctional,” but that the parents had several disagreements. Notwithstanding, Dr. Campagna opined that the parents were close with their children and should, therefore, live within thirty minutes of one another. This would allow their extensive relationships to continue.
Best Interests of the Children
At the time of the divorce trial, B.G. and, E.G. lived in the same household. E.G. wanted to stay in the home, particularly because it was close to the school attended by the special needs child. The court granted her request and designated her house as the primary residence for the special needs son and the youngest daughter. Meanwhile, the oldest son would live with his father.
The court also ordered “co-parenting counseling and reunification therapy,” with a goal of creating a more stable environment. There were also concerns that the children would need transportation to three different schools, which could pose an issue for each parent. The judge ordered the parents "not to move more than [fifteen] miles from each other going forward in order to further parenting time between each parent and all of the children."
B.G. raised a number of issues on appeal, including that his constitutional rights had been infringed by restricting him from moving more than fifteen miles from E.G. The Appellate Division disagreed with B.G.’s assertion but felt there was not enough credible evidence to suggest the need for such a stringent limitation.
According to the record, Dr. Campagna only discussed his view of the optimal driving time between residences and acknowledged it was subjective. There was no finding that geographic limitations would be in the children’s best interests. In fact, the court seemed to recognize that the family was dysfunctional – and living close would not necessarily change things. The matter was remanded back to the lower court for changes to the Final Judgment of Divorce.